Anti-satellite missiles can be deployed against enemy satellites, disrupting crucial intelligence during war.
He said India would be the fourth country to have used such an anti-satellite missile after the United States, Russia and China.
“A while ago, our scientists shot down a live satellite at a Low Earth Orbit. I congratulate all scientists who have made this possible and made India a much stronger nation,” Modi said in a rare televised address to the nation weeks before the national elections scheduled to be held in April and May.
“This is a big moment for India. Something that all of us should be proud of. We are not just capable to defend on land, water and air, but now also in space,” he was quoted as saying by NDTV website.
The satellite was in orbit at 300km.
“This is of a huge significance. I will compare it to India’s first nuclear test [in 1998],” said Pallava Bagla, author of Bridging the Communication Gap in Science and Technology: Lessons from India.
“This will certainly increase India’s defence capabilities. India can now respond to threats from space assets of foreign countries. Only very few countries are capable of doing what India has demonstrated,” he told Al Jazeera.
In the journey of every nation there are moments that bring utmost pride and have a historic impact on generations to come.
One such moment is today.
India has successfully tested the Anti-Satellite (ASAT) Missile. Congratulations to everyone on the success of #MissionShakti.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 27, 2019
The mission was led by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the country’s premier defence research organisation, as part of Mission Shakti.
Al Jazeera’s Sohail Rahman reporting from New Delhi said India has been developing its space technology for close to a decade.
“It was a policy that was started way back in 2012 under former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This is a major announcement by a sitting prime minister, it will have reverberations and repercussions across the world.” Rahman said.
Meanwhile, Pakistan issued a call against military threats in outer space on Wednesday, hours after India carried out the test.
“Space is the common heritage of mankind and every nation has the responsibility to avoid actions which can lead to the militarisation of this arena,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
“We hope that countries which have in the past strongly condemned demonstration of similar capabilities by others will be prepared to work towards developing international instruments to prevent military threats relating to outer space,” the statement said, without mentioning India by name.
Supporters of Modi took to social media to congratulate the government and the DRDO on the latest feat, but many others, including opposition leaders, criticised the timing of the announcement in the middle of election campaigning.
A major opposition leader, Mamata Banerjee, said it was a gross violation of electoral code of conduct.
“Today’s announcement is yet another limitless drama and publicity mongering by Modi desperately trying to reap political benefits at the time of election,” Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal state and a potential prime ministerial candidate, said on Twitter.
“We are lodging a complaint with the Election Commission.”
Why does a sat launch need an address to the nation, that too in election time? Model code of conduct?
— Harinder Baweja (@shammybaweja) March 27, 2019
An Election Commission spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment. India’s staggered general elections begin on April 11.
Modi went on Twitter earlier to announce his plan for a national broadcast, saying he had an important announcement to make.
India has had a space programme for years, making earth-imaging satellites and launch capabilities as a cheaper alternative to Western programmes.
Brahma Chellaney, a security expert at New Delhi’s Centre for Policy Research, said the United States, Russia and China were pursuing anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons.
“Space is being turned into a battlefront, making counter-space capabilities critical. In this light, India’s successful ‘kill’ with an ASAT weapon is significant.”
India’s foreign ministry said in a statement that its test was done in the lower atmosphere to ensure there was no debris in space and that whatever was left would “decay and fall back onto the earth within weeks”.
In December, India allocated $1.43bn for its first manned space mission, set to be launched by 2022. New Delhi is aiming to expand the country’s influence in the competitive $300bn global space industry.
An unmanned test launch of the project is likely scheduled for December 2020.
In 2014, India put a satellite into orbit around Mars, becoming the fourth nation to do so.
India’s Mars Mission cost less than the budget of the Hollywood space blockbuster Gravity. In November last year, India fired a rocket carrying 31 satellites into space, many on behalf of foreign governments.
India’s neighbour China first sent humans to space in 2003.
New Delhi’s space programme was launched in the early 1960s but it remains a small player in the global space industry.
Both China and India have dedicated billions of dollars to their space programmes, but their budgets are still far below that of the United States, which is estimated at $40bn.